Noticeably white fingers in the cold winter months are a typical symptom of Raynaud’s syndrome (also: Raynaud’s disease, Raynaud’s disease or Raynaud’s phenomenon). It was named after the French doctor Maurice Raynaud, who first described it. What kind of disease is Raynaud’s disease, how do you recognize it and how is it treated? You can read interesting facts about Raynaud’s syndrome here.
What is Raynaud’s Syndrome?
Raynaud’s syndrome is a circulatory disorder. This results in severe pale fingers, which are often triggered by cold or stress. This is why Raynaud’s syndrome is also known colloquially as “white finger disease”.
The disease is more common in women than in men and is a very common disease overall.
Symptoms: how do you recognize Raynaud’s syndrome?
A typical symptom of Raynaud’s phenomenon is pale, white fingers. This pallor is caused by the fact that small blood vessels (capillaries) in the fingers contract and therefore less blood flows through the outer layers of the fingers. This can also be very painful or accompanied by numbness and tingling.
Then the fingers turn blue (they become cyanotic) as a sign of the lack of blood supply (lack of oxygen) in the tissue. After a few minutes to an hour, the previously white and blue fingers overheat due to over circulation (which occurs as a reaction of the body) and turn red.
Not all phases have to occur. The last, “red” phase, in particular, is often missing. Usually, one or more fingers are affected by the symptoms, only rarely the thumb. Raynaud’s syndrome can also appear on the foot and toes.
Raynaud’s syndrome can also appear on the nipples in breastfeeding women. These change colour while the child is lying against it (often one-sided) and contract more strongly. This phenomenon can be very uncomfortable and painful for those affected. However, this does not pose any risk to the breast-fed child.
In very rare cases it can also lead to disturbances in the secretion of sweat (perspiration), wound healing disturbances and changes in the cornification of the skin.
What causes Raynaud’s disease?
The contraction of small blood vessels in areas of the body that are far from the abdomen and thus the internal organs is actually a natural process when it is cold. The body goes into the energy-saving mode and keeps the important abdominal organs warm and well supplied with blood. It is believed that this natural and healthy mechanism in Raynaud’s syndrome is out of whack and is therefore overregulated.
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Is Raynaud’s Syndrome Dangerous?
In most cases, Raynaud’s syndrome is not dangerous. In severe cases, however, the restriction of the oxygen supply to the fingers can be so severe that it leads to tissue death (necrosis). Especially in the cold winter months, it is therefore important for people with Raynaud’s syndrome to take good care of their fingers and toes and to protect them with warm shoes and gloves.
What to do if Raynaud’s syndrome occurs again?
Most people have lived with Raynaud’s phenomenon since childhood, often without ascribing any disease value to it. This form is also known as primary Raynaud’s syndrome and it is harmless. The cause of the primary form is still unclear.
In some cases, however, Raynaud’s phenomena reappear in people who only notice them in adulthood. This is a so-called secondary Raynaud’s syndrome, which can occur in the context of other underlying diseases. Therefore, medical clarification is always required here.
Possible triggers of secondary Raynaud’s syndrome include:
- Strong, recurring mechanical impacts (for example daily work with a jackhammer)
- various blood diseases (haematological diseases, for example, leukaemia or thrombocytosis)
- peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAD), which is caused, among other things, by smoking tobacco
- so-called collagenases, which are also counted among the rheumatic diseases. These diseases are autoimmune diseases in which antibodies are formed against the body’s own tissue. Examples of this are lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus), scleroderma, Sharp syndrome or Sjörgren’s syndrome.
- Certain medications, such as beta-blockers (antihypertensive drugs), ergotamine (migraine drug), or bleomycin (antibiotic and cytostatic )
- Which doctor is responsible for Raynaud’s syndrome?
- If you suspect Raynaud’s syndrome, a visit to your family doctor is advisable. If this person suspects an underlying disease, he/she will refer to a rheumatologist, haematologist or angiologist if necessary.
Diagnosis: is there a test for Raynaud’s syndrome?
Because there are many triggers for the syndrome, it is difficult to pinpoint a test that is equally effective in all people. It is therefore important to observe the symptoms yourself and, if in doubt, to describe them to a doctor you trust. The diagnosis can often be made based on the description in the anamnesis (doctor-patient discussion).
Raynaud’s syndrome is usually a diagnosis of exclusion, in which a PAD (peripheral arterial disease) or a thromboembolic occlusion is clarified beforehand.
The main aim of the diagnosis is to find out whether the syndrome is triggered by an underlying disease. If this is suspected, further tests, such as a blood count or other laboratory tests, may be necessary.
How do you treat Raynaud’s syndrome?
There is no cure for Raynaud’s syndrome. The focus is therefore on symptomatic therapy. However, Raynaud’s syndrome can be treated very well naturally, so that medication is often not required. If the disease occurs secondary, Raynaud’s syndrome may disappear with the treatment of the underlying disease.
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Symptomatic therapy includes the following measures:
- Wearing warm gloves and shoes helps to avoid the cold and prevent the seizure-like symptoms.
- Heat cushions and heated gloves can help with cold fingers. However, it should be remembered that cold also has a pain-numbing effect and thus burns, for example, are less noticeable. So you should avoid too much heat.
- Regular movement of the fingers and toes promotes healthy blood circulation and also produces heat.
- When breastfeeding, a heating pad can be placed on the breast above the nipple.
- Massages of the hands or feet promote blood circulation.
- If the symptoms occur in connection with psychological stress, it can help to incorporate various relaxation methods into everyday life in order to strengthen the psyche.
- Acupuncture is said to have both a blood circulation-promoting and a stress-relieving effect, but studies on its effectiveness are not yet clear.
Can you treat Raynaud’s syndrome with medication?
If treatment with home remedies and appropriate measures are not sufficient, the doctor can also prescribe medication. One attempt at therapy consists in using drugs that widen the blood vessels (vasodilators). This includes:
- Alprostadil (prostaglandin E1)
- Alpha receptor blockers
- Calcium antagonists
- Sildenafil (Viagra)
- Iloprost (prostacyclin)
The effectiveness of calcium antagonists and alpha-receptor blockers has also been proven in various studies in the USA in breastfeeding mothers.
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Treating Raynaud’s syndrome with homoeopathy
There have also been attempts to treat Raynaud’s syndrome with homoeopathic remedies, such as Silicea (silica). However, there is no proven effectiveness for this.
Can diet affect R. syndrome?
There are various foods that are said to have a positive effect on blood vessels. This includes cocoa, for example. There are also substances in red wine that help dilate blood vessels. Here, 12 grams of alcohol (approx. 0.1 litres of wine) per day are considered safe for women, for men the double values apply (24 grams of alcohol, corresponds to approx. 0.2 litres of wine) per day. However, it has not yet been proven whether these substances actually have a positive influence on the Raynaud phenomenon.
On the contrary, some other foods cause the vessels to narrow, which in turn could worsen the symptoms. These should be avoided if possible. This includes:
- Coffee and other forms of caffeine
- Alcohol in large quantities
- Animal foods with a large proportion of animal fats
Nicotine is also considered to be a trigger for circulatory disorders, which is why those affected should not smoke.
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